“Dave, I am doing my first race in a few days. I am nervous. What should I eat the day before to give me the best chance of getting through the race?”
“And what should I eat after the race?
So first of all, congratulations! You are a runner and you have decided to take the plunge and enter your first race! Or maybe you have raced before but were never sure if you were eating the right foods. Or you’re thinking about this whole thing but you don’t know exactly how to go about preparing yourself.
The good news is that you are already there. Or almost! What I mean by this is that you are already a runner, so I assume you have been eating something or you wouldn’t be here reading this article! But let’s go ahead and fine-tune things so that you feel your absolute best before, during and after the race!
What to eat the day before the race. It is best to eat many small healthy meals the day before as opposed to a few large, heavy meals. This will ensure that your metabolism and digestion are even and that there are no real ups and downs with your blood sugar all day long.
Assuming you eat a healthy diet, I suggest that you keep eating what you are already used to. This is not the time to be experimenting with new foods, which would have the potential to wreak havoc with your intestines!
Here are some examples of what I like to eat the day before the race:
Breakfast: two eggs, organic rice cake, Greek yogurt, green tea, small pomegranate juice.
Mid morning snack: banana
Lunch: mixed green salad with some grilled chicken, dried organic fruit such as apricot, green tea or spring water.
Afternoon snack: organic rice cake with almond butter or hummus.
Dinner: Small amount of meat or fish, brown rice, broccoli, small amount of sweet potato (notice the complex carbs!), spring water.
My diet (The Dave Diet) does not include any sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or wheat product (gluten-free). You may substitute as needed.
The morning of the race: I am different than many people as I like to eat a small amount of food an hour or two before a race to make sure my blood sugar is in check. The worst feeling in the world is to feel faint during a race! Something I found perfect is a small rice cake with some hummus on it. Another suggestion would be a half banana and a half bagel (if you eat wheat products). An energy bar works well too but make sure it’s a healthy one. I like Larabar as it is made naturally from fruit. Please remember, do not try ANY new foods at this time. In the morning it is also important to drink several glasses of fresh water to stay hydrated.
During the race: I carry my own water in a hip pack (personal preference) but most races should have water stops. Please always drink water during the race! I DO NOT believe in Gatorade as it is pure sugar! Gatorade has been reported to do crazy things with the stomach and intestines as well. During longer races I do replace my electrolytes with Endurolytes by Hammer (these are capsules) as well as Hammer Gel (1-2 packets every hour). During a 5K race you probably will not need to do this. But again, please make sure you drink water, especially in warmer temperatures!
Immediately following the race: Drink and eat to rehydrate and get nutrients back into your system! Many races these days serve bagels, fruit, energy bars, etc. to the runners. Don’t be shy… please eat and drink plenty. You deserve it!
After the race and into the next day: You burned a lot of calories in completing the race. Congratulations! Make sure you are rehydrating and feeding your muscles. You will probably be hungrier than normal, so please eat. This is not the time to “diet.” Your body is telling you that it needs nutrition. What do I eat after a race? Anything that I can (as long as it is on The Dave Diet)! Yes, Dave pigs out after a race! One thing I love to drink after a race to help replenish electrolytes is pure coconut water by Vita Coco.
What to absolutely avoid before and after a race: Alcohol and caffeine – they are both diuretics and will dehydrate you. Sometimes they serve beer after a race. I would stay away and give your body what it really needs, which would be water and electrolytes (bananas are loaded with potassium). And beware… those so-called “energy drinks” such as Red Bull are not energy drinks! They are liquid caffeine and sugar. Don’t even think about them!
Oh yeah… one more piece of advice: you will be drinking a lot of water so please make sure you empty your bladder just before the start of the race. There is nothing more uncomfortable than running when you have to “go!”
If you eat healthy and sensibly and follow these simple guidelines, I am confident that you will get through your race comfortably and safely. Let me know how you do!